Carpal Tunnel Home > Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Carpal tunnel surgery is a procedure in which the tissue around the wrist is cut to help relieve pressure on the median nerve. There are two different types of surgery: open release and endoscopic. After undergoing this procedure, most people have successful results that include substantial pain relief and prevention of further damage to the hand or wrist.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Surgery?

Carpal tunnel surgery, also known as carpal tunnel release, is a procedure that can help relieve pressure on the median nerve to improve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This type of surgery involves cutting the tissue around the wrist to alleviate pressure on the median nerve.

Understanding the Carpal Tunnel

The wrist is made up of eight small bones, called carpal bones. The carpal bones connect the bones in your forearm to the bones in your hand -- these are held together by ligaments. The median nerve, which controls some of your hand muscles and allows you to feel sensations with your hand, passes from the forearm to the hand through a confined space in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. It is much like a tunnel you drive your car through, with a ceiling, floor, walls, an entrance, and exit. The carpal ligament is the tough "ceiling" of the carpal tunnel.
Several tendons also pass through this tunnel. Each one has a special slippery covering, called the synovium, which allows the tendons to glide smoothly as you move your fingers. In a normal wrist, there is adequate room for both the tendons and the nerve.
The carpal tunnel and the space allowed for the median nerve and tendons cannot get bigger because the bones and ligaments that form the tunnel will not stretch. Therefore, anything that adds to this space will compress the tendons and median nerve. Most often, the synovium around each tendon becomes inflamed and swells. This causes compression of the median nerve and results in painful symptoms.
As the median nerve is squeezed, less blood and nutrients flow to it. Without these essential nutrients, it becomes damaged and is unable to function normally. This causes pain, numbness, and weakness in the fingers and thumb that is often most noticeable at night. The longer the nerve is squeezed, the more the nerve is damaged. This damage can cause scar formation within the nerve, which is irreversible.
Furthermore, if the nerve is compressed for a long time, the muscles in the hand that receive signals from the nerve shrink in size due to the lack of stimulation from the nerve. The longer the nerve is compressed, the more severe the muscle loss.
The sooner the pressure on the median nerve is relieved, the better the chance for recovery.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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